Friday, March 31, 2017

Your Biggest Liability Is Standing Right Next To You

The greatest risk to any organization comes from within

Donna felt confident that she had terminated Kate's employment with just cause. Within a week of Kate's firing, Donna received notice that Kate filed for unemployment insurance. Donna was surprised with the news. Kate was let go because she was doing something that was against company policy. She was, in the eyes of the organization, steeling and falsifying documentation. Donna thought that not doing these things was simply common sense. During Donna's conversation with the unemployment representative, he asked her a question that stunned her. He asked, "do you have documentation that you trained Kate in these matters?" Donna's reply was very similar to how many others might have replied in her situation, "why would I need to do training on something that is common sense?" Kate began receiving unemployment benefits.

An organization relies on its employees and their productivity. Close relationships are sometimes formed. Even the occasional lifetime friendship is created. Employees are one of the greatest resources to an organization. It is for all of the reasons listed above, and many others, that an organizations biggest liability comes from its employees.

Yes, the statement above is cold and harsh, but so are certain workplace realities. Employees present the biggest risk to an organization. Here are some examples where employees are a liability:
  • Compliance (HIPAA, Medicare, etc) - Employees are human and sometimes their curiosity gets the better of them. They also tend to say or do things that could get an organization in trouble or audited.
  • Harassment - Employees have a bad history of being mean and spiteful to each other. If an employee enters a department where they are either not liked or resented, the other employees will make the unwanted employee's work environment unbearable until they are no longer there.
  • Social Media - People love to vent their frustrations. As it turns out, people now have a way to vent their frustrations about their jobs to the entire world. Employees of any organization are no different. If an employee feels slighted at their job or does not like their job, the world will hear about it.
  • Employment Termination - There is always a level of risk when an organization has to terminate an employees employment. Although the supervisor feels that he or she did everything right, there are times when something unexpected comes back to bite the organization right in the bank account. Here are two facts to remember: 1. some employees will lie and 2. unemployment officers and the courts tend to lean in favor of the employee (particularly if the employer has little or no documentation to back up their side of the story and it boils down to a "he said, she said" situation).
What has been said here is just a taste of reality. However, with that reality, there are things an organization can do to lessen its liability:
  • Training and Documentation - It is vital that an organization deliver training on every topic that is relevant to that organization. No matter how trivial it might appear. Do not assume that people will just know stuff because it's "common sense". In addition, it is critical that there is documentation of any given training. Include the names of the attendees, date, and the topics covered.
  • Policies and Procedures - Having established, written, and communicated policies and procedures will help an organization protect itself from employees who claim that they had no idea this or that was against the organization's policies. Having written policies and procedures will also protect an organization if an audit should occur.
  • Organizational Culture - What does the culture within an organization say about it? For employees, the culture of an organization says a lot. Having an organizational culture where the employees are supportive of one another, where there is a positive attitude, and where new ideas and thoughts are free to flow, helps lessen negative attitudes and bad feelings within the organization. It helps to bring in the right type of person who would fit the culture within an organization.
  • Employment Termination - This goes back to the idea of having effective policies, procedures and documentation in place. For example, if an employee quits, do not ask him or her to come back to the office to train another employee. When an employee quits, there IT access should be cut and they should not be doing any more work for an organization. This should be a written policy and followed the same way every time. Avoid showing favoritism towards employees and be sure that managers/supervisors know to avoid getting too close and personal with their employees. Managers and Supervisors should stay objective and focused on developing the employees in order to help them become more valuable within the organization.
Employees are a vital component to the success of an organization. Your employees will have diverse backgrounds, skills and personalities. However, they are still employees of an organization. Any organization who looses sight of this fact is putting itself at risk.

Organizations should treat their employees well and give them every opportunity to succeed in their position of employment. However, it is up to the organization to protect itself from the liability that comes with employees being imperfect people.

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